The secret to making a really good paella is just having really good product.
From the quality of the proteins, vegetables, and rice to the concentration of flavor in the stock—either a fumet if making a seafood paella, a chicken stock for meat paella, or a vegetable one for a vegetarian paella—these are the crucial components to making a great paella.
I choose to only use bomba rice for my paellas at Chesa, my restaurant in Portland, Oregon, because it holds better in higher temperatures and doesn't absorb as much stock, so it has a better texture in your mouth than other rices like senia or carnaroli rice. At the restaurant, I also use a custom-made wood-burning Josper oven to cook my paellas that lends a nice smokiness. You can still make a really good one without it at home if you have the best ingredients you can get.
The most famous and classic style is paella valenciana, because it is believed that paella originated in Valencia. Still, there are different ingredients that are used in that region. They range from chicken and sausage to beans and vegetables, and might have a little bit of saffron or might have a whole lot. Where I'm from in Barcelona and Costa Brava, paellas are more concentrated in flavor with darker sofritos, and it is finished with a picada, a Catalan tradition of adding some seasoned breadcrumbs, saffron, and parsley on top of the paella.
I learned how to make paella at 16 years old. I had a paella class during my time in culinary school in Spain. We made paellas and fideuà, which is like a paella with noodles instead of rice. Some of my earliest favorite memories are of my dad making paella on Sundays growing up. He was also a chef and restaurateur in Spain and Sundays were the only day when he didn't work. He made a really delicious paella with salt cod, snails, and potatoes. He is retired, but to this day I still call him for his input any time that I make a change in the menu.
I moved to Portland on September 26, 2011, at approximately 5 PM. I had moved from Spain to Puerto Rico with my wife and worked as a chef in a Spanish restaurant there. We moved to Portland because, in many ways, it feels like Europe. People here absolutely love food. They love to go out and eat and are open-minded. People in the food industry here also really care about their jobs and really care about the fact that they are nourishing people every day. It is also a really family-friendly city. These are all things that make the city have a European feeling.
Portlanders really love Spanish food. There are many Spanish restaurants in this city, like Toro Bravo, Pata Negra, and more. I think this is because Portland really lends itself to Spanish food. We are lucky to have a lot of excellent farmers in the area like Viridian Farms that specialize in European produce like Padrón peppers and Oregon-made pimentón.
However you choose to make or eat your paella—straight from the pan with a spoon is the original Spanish way—just make sure to remember that paella means family, sitting down around a table, and having a good time.
This interview was edited for length and clarity. Parts of this interview were translated from Spanish. As told to Javier Cabral.